A home is where you can lock up your stuff: Khaleel Seivwright
My name’s Khaleel Seivwright. Currently, I’m working with a team and we’re building cabin communities in Toronto, I’m also starting a podcast where I interview folks about their lived experience of being unhoused.
Using your carpentry skills, you built 109 tiny shelters for Toronto’s unhoused community. What was your inspiration?
I was living in a community in BC and I had many different living situations when I was there, and I figured it’d be nice to have something that was my own whenever I went there. That’s where I came up with the design originally and just took scrap materials, put it together and lived in it. And it was really nice and comfortable.
Then I came back to Toronto and just noticed many people staying in tents and thinking in August and September that these people would find somewhere else to go and they didn’t. It dawned on me that this is something that I could do that would help folks.
For the folks that were staying in them, it was overwhelmingly positive just to have somewhere to lock your stuff away and not have it stolen, and just to have somewhere that was relatively quiet in comparison to a tent and just warmer and safer.
What was the City of Toronto’s reaction to your tiny shelters?
They generally disapproved of it, not necessarily for the safety of them, but that I was doing it illegally without permission it seemed like. They eventually took me to court to get me to stop building them.
To me it says that they’re more interested in the optics of homelessness and the optics of the problem. At least at that point, it seemed that it was more significant that we move people out of sight to make it feel like there isn’t a problem.
And that is itself a problem. That’s a huge problem. It’s trying to mask symptoms of a serious disease while you still have this serious disease, and it’s getting worse.
What can we do to create a fully housed Toronto?
That is such a hard thing to say, but build affordable housing.
One of the biggest reasons people have for being unhoused is just not being able to afford rent. If they were able to afford being able to stay in the place, they wouldn’t become homeless, and they wouldn’t have so many different, terrible experiences that would lead them to other terrible experiences. It’s like an endless cycle.
Another extremely important thing is just not criminalizing people for living in a tent, like not going and harassing them endlessly because you want them to disappear.
You feature prominently in Someone Lives Here, a new documentary about Toronto’s homelessness crisis. What do you want viewers to learn from watching it?
I think the main message is, or at least my impression, is that it ends and the encampments are cleared, and you see the parks and the pristine, everyone’s enjoying it, and there’s this eerie feeling that none of this, nothing has been solved.
Many of the people that were in that documentary that were unhoused are still unhoused.
It’s just, I don’t know, not paying attention to the things, to the policies that are being made on your behalf, is a part of the problem.
I think if people realize this is a significant thing, that if we all get involved, if we all understand what’s happening, what’s being chosen on our behalf, that we can actually do something to make it different.